Last week I got a review at Dear Author, which was both awesome and a little “meh.” The “meh” came in because I got a C-, which I’ve been told is still a solid grade. To confirm this, I looked up some of my favorite romance authors to see how they fared: they all got Cs as well. Mary Jo Putney, Candace Camp, Lucinda Brant, and more.
Why I Love a C Review
The awesome came in because I got a five page critique from the reviewer. No, seriously. I copied the text into Microsoft Word and it was five single-spaced pages.
Let me repeat that. Five. Single-spaced. Pages.
She went into detail that I would expect from an editor getting paid for her judgment. I kowtow at her feet and offer as much tea as I can brew and she can drink with multiple bathroom breaks. Her critique was spot on, pointing out everything I’ve wondered about my writing. She essentially gave me a checklist of things I need to make sure NOT to do in The Rebel’s Hero.
Do you know how many authors would commit murder for this kind of free feedback?
This is important stuff, I feel, because so often we authors can be a bit sensitive about reviews. And sure, when the reviewer launches into an emotional reason about why they did or did not like the book, that is less than helpful. Still, each review provides a learning experience, positive or negative. It is feedback for the next time we put pen to paper, and we should value them all, garnished with a grain of salt.
Plus, a C-range grade from Dear Author isn’t nearly as bad as some authors feel. It translates to “this book is competent, but not for me.” It’s a “good but not great” book. It’s a book that was “fun, but not sure I’d read it again.”
That’s fair. I’ll take that. Some of my favorite authors have multiple books in that “not sure I’d read it again” category. Darling Reader, I invite you to read the review and leave your opinion in the comments. The review was more than fair, and the comments were very nice. I would be interested to see your responses, as I know some of you left reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.
Tumbling Around the Interwebs
Completely unrelated, I created a Tumblr for the videos, photos, and inspirational quotes I want to share that don’t warrant an entire blog post.
If you follow me on Twitter and Facebook, then you will see the content there. The fun part about Tumblr is that it’s an easy way to ask me questions, or to submit fun content for others to see. I’ll see you over there!
All right, I think that’s it for this week! Best,
Have you ever been so sick you can’t even stumble from bed? That’s what I’m going through right at this moment. My manager mentioned it might be strep, which I hope it isn’t because that means I have to leave my apartment to get antibiotics.
Anyway, over the weekend I wrote another 900+ words for Catching the Rose, which is pretty great. Not that what I wrote was fantastic, but it’s progress, anyway. I’m upping the tension in the book much sooner… I’ve cut out pages and pages of description and pitted Amy and Veronica against each other in a way that both surprises me and has me interested. Which I hope my readers will feel the same way. An excerpt to wet your whistle…
As if there wasn’t enough to worry about these days, with the southern states breaking away from the union. Amy pushed her tongue to the side of her mouth and bit it lightly to keep from saying anything. Veronica was a spoiled brat who had no concept of what was going on around her. She wouldn’t know, or care, that this war was chasing Amy south, for a little while, anyway.
“But you know,” Veronica said, leaning back in her seat, “they probably should have. Or they would have, if they had any idea what I’m intending to do here.”
The carriage skidded to a stop. Amy’s stomach landed somewhere between the stamping hooves of the horse that dragged them to the quiet street where Mrs. Beaumont lived.
“And just what might that be, Miss Vernon?” Amy managed, hand on her stomach.
“Ronnie,” Veronica corrected. She rifled through her satchel, which had sat hidden beneath her skirts all this while, and pulled out a careworn journal. She flipped through it expertly until finding a page some three-quarters of the way through. “Find him, and marry him.”
Amy blinked at the handsome sketch of a man Veronica couldn’t possibly know. “What?”
“It’s not the best likeness, I know,” Veronica said. She sighed a little, staring at the portrait of a man with dark hair, sharp eyes, and the hint of a smirk tucked at the corner of his lips. “I haven’t seen him in years. But that won’t stop me, no ma’am.”
“You’re in Richmond to find this man and marry him.” Amy knew she sounded stupid repeating Veronica again. Her lips felt swollen and her tongue heavy. The nausea from the train came back with a vengeance and she swallowed heavily against riotous bile. She had come to Richmond to erase all traces of this man.
It’s a first draft, obviously, but I like it.
How is everyone else doing? Check out the Round of Words in 80 Days list of participants to keep up.
I am ashamed to admit it has been, according to 750words.com, five days since I last wrote a word for Haunting Miss Trentwood. Thank goodness for blogfests! I almost forgot I agreed to be a part of the Rainy Day blogfest, held by The Writer’s Hole.
Below is my submission, a first-draft snippet of Chapter 24 from my work-in-progress, Haunting Miss Trentwood. To give you an idea of the story, it is set in 1887 England, and the tagline is “Father knows best… even after death.” Enjoy!
By the time they reached Wayland’s Smithy, it had begun to rain. It was the kind of loud rain which spoke of the end of winter and the coming of spring. Mary had been forced to jog that last one hundred yards to the black opening of the Saxon tomb. She had slid on the slick rock floor covered with decaying leaves. Trentwood’s tight grasp on her arm righted her. She jerked away from his unnatural touch.
Mary huddled beneath the sheltering rocks of the sarsen stones that made the ceiling, her arms wrapped tightly around her waist. I haven’t anything left to vomit. “Tell me what happened back there.”
Trentwood stood in the shadows beside her. She could feel his white eyes watching her, and fought the wave of nausea that shuddered through her body. Those white eyes had, for a brief moment, looked at her through Hartwell’s eyes. Certainly she hadn’t imagined that? Trentwood had, for a time, stepped into Hartwell’s body so he could land a devastating punch to Sedgwick’s jaw. One couldn’t imagine that. Just as one couldn’t imagine one’s father haunting one.
I’m not mad. Please, tell me I’m not mad.
Outside, the rain plummeted to the ground more furiously than Mary had ever seen. It was as if the sky vomited on her behalf. She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead into the moss that clung to the vertical stone walls. She sighed as the cool rock soothed the pounding at her temples.
“What would you like to know?”
She wasn’t sure where to begin. “How did you do it?”
Trentwood shrugged. “One minute I was watching you thrash about in bed, and I heard you scream that terrifying scream of yours, and the next minute, I was in your dream. I haven’t the slightest clue how it happened.”
Mary blinked. Wait, what? Her tongue felt heavy in her mouth. “I was talking about when you possessed Mr. Hartwell, Father.”
Again, Trentwood shrugged. “I’m as new to this being dead folderol as you are in watching it.”
Wiping beads of sweat from her brow, Mary whispered, “You will limit such… jaunts… in the future, I hope?”
“Indeed,” he said with a short laugh. “It pains me to do it as much as it seems to pain you to watch it. Do you know how difficult it is to be dead, hopping around from one mind or body to the next, not knowing how you got there, or how you’ll get out?” He stepped closer, and she could smell his death-stench.
“No, I don’t. I never thought it was a skill I would need to learn.”
He grunted. “Inherited your mother’s morbid sense of humor, I see.”
“Given the circumstances, I think I’m glad of it.”
Suddenly seeming sheepish, Trentwood took yet another step closer. “Mary, we must talk about your dream. We must talk about your mother’s death.”
Definitely make sure you check out the other submissions. Thanks for reading!
All the best,
“Could it think, the heart would stop beating.” – Fernando Pessoa
Today in my English class we talked about the implicit promises writers make to their readers… these promises act as hooks, or mini-crises that build up the tension to the climax or sub-climax of the plot.
In romance, we begin our stories with a promise. At the beginning, we have two people who may or may not know one another. One thing we do know is that whether they know it or not, they will grow to care for one another, and we get to watch that process. It’s the fun part of love.
If this promise isn’t fulfilled, whether with a twist, or unexpectedly, we are left with a sense of disappointment and often anger. We discount the entire work as a waste of time.
As writers, sometimes we forget the promises we’ve made to our readers. We ignore the initial hook of the story, or never complete that subhook which made them turn the page to the next chapter.
Draw your readers in. Speak to their hearts rather than making them think through your plot. Once you drop a promise and confuse the reader, you’re destroyed the suspension of disblief and made them think again. As Pessoa claims, if the heart is made to think, it might stop beating.
Title: The Reincarnationist
Author: MJ Rose
Genre: Historical Suspense
Length: 455 pgs.
Summary: Josh Ryder, an investigative photographer, is the survivor of a terrorist bomb that exploded a year ago in Rome, Italy. Thanks to the bombing, he is now the victim of odd flashes that have the “emotion, the intensity, the intimacy of memories.” But they couldn’t be memories. In these flashes, Josh is a pagan priest in ancient Rome, desperate to save a woman named Sabina and the treasures she is hiding from the marauding Christians. As his flashbacks uncover his previous life, deaths start piling up around Josh: whatever that woman Sabina was protecting in ancient Rome, someone today thinks they’re worth killing for.
pg 36 – Josh experienced a flash of completely unfounded jealousy and unexpected emotion: a white-hot surge of jealousy unlike anything he’d ever felt for any lover he’d ever had. He wanted to rush over and pull Rudolfo away, to tell him he had no business leaning in so close, no right to get so near to her. Josh hadn’t known that this corpse even existed an hour before, but his recollections had taken over and in his mind he saw muscle appearing, then being covered by flesh, the flesh plumping out her face, neck, hands, breasts, hips, thighs and feet, all coming to life, her lips pinking, her eyes being colored a deep blue. … A million images crashed inside his head. Centuries of words he’d never heard before. One louder than the rest. He snatched it out from the cacophony. Sabina. Her name.
pg 261 – “You might as well be one of those stone sculptures,” Alex mused out loud. “Immune to falling in love. No one has ever made your eyes shine the way a stunning unset gem can.”
“One day you will stop believing in the possibility of heroes, accept the reality of the people you meet, deal with their limitations and learn to make the best of it.”
“Why should I do that? You didn’t. Aunt Nancy didn’t.”
pg 374 – “When you look into the eyes of someone you’re photographing, and glimpse a terrible suffering, don’t turn away,” his father had once told him. “It’s a gift to see into the depths of grief, because only when you realize that someone can be in that much pain and still function, speak civilly, shake your hand and tell you how nice it is to meet you, do you understand why you can’t ever give in or give up. There’s always another chance, another day. That’s the miracle of the human spirit. Take on the pain, Josh. Give it its due. That’s the only way to beat it.”
Why should you read this book?
You can always tell when I really like a book… I have a lot of excerpts from it that I think are the best-written passages. Let me tell you this: I’m in graduate school, and I’m super busy all the time. But I made time for this book. I read it in two days, despite all my assignments, because I was desperate to know what happened.
Read this book for a great example of suspenseful writing, for fleshed out characters, and even for some well-written intimate scenes. If you’re trying to write emotion but don’t know how to begin, this is an awesome start for you. If you’re tackling the idea of fate, and fate bringing your characters together/splitting them apart, read this book.
Success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.
- Arnold H. Glasow
A somewhat creepy quote just in time for Halloween, I think. Can you imagine what it must feel like, to set yourself on fire? Let’s think of it in the literal sense, first.
There are the branches and twigs, all dried to a satisfying crisp so they will catch flame. There are the ropes, to keep you in place as the flames grow higher and start to lick at your feet. There is the stake to which you bind yourself, and the gasoline in which you douse yourself. There is the doubtful assistant, who ties you up, and lights the flame for you. There are your shrieks, though of triumph or horror for completing the task, we’ll never know.
Gruesome. Happy Halloween.
Now let’s look at this as a giant metaphor, because who doesn’t like a good metaphor?
As a writer, you must set yourself on fire.
There are your ideas (branches and twigs), happily fermenting in the back of your mind and ready to explode on the page. There are your goals and aspirations (ropes), to keep you going as the going gets tough and the rejections evermore painful. There is the blog to which you commit yourself (the stake), and the people who comment (gasoline), holding you accountable. There is your critique partner (doubtful assistant), who asks you questions, and encourages you when you’re ready to give up. There are your shrieks, though of triumph or horror for completing the first draft and having to start the second, we’ll never know.
I encourage all of you to set yourself on fire. Be the passion that brings your work to life, and others will feel it in your writing. As sung in The Sound of Music, “Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever should.” What does that mean? It means that, like in the quote at the beginning of this entry, success won’t spontaneously combust for you. Success will be a result of an arduous process into which you pour your heart, soul, patience, and resources.
Set yourself on fire. Join NaNoWriMo, and feel the flames burn ever higher as you blaze toward the finish line. Good luck, and may the muse be with you.
Leave a comment about something you do to get fired up about writing. Do you listen to music? Do you watch a favorite movie or read a favorite book? Do you talk to people about your writing?
A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.
- Franz Kafka
We all know that a story in which nothing bad happens to the character isn’t much of a story. The character needs something to fight against, so the reader has a reason to root for the character. This can be for heroes and villains, believe it or not.
That being said, when you write, who do you keep in mind as you write? The characters? Your overarching plot? Your theme? Your reader? Or all of the above?
When I began Trentwood’s Orphan, I had no idea who or what I was writing for. I simply had a character (Mary Winslow) who, like many of you mentioned in the comments two weeks ago, wouldn’t leave me alone. And that was good enough for me, then.
Now, I find that I’m writing not only to learn more about Mary, but also about how the world affects her and how she affects the world…that world including the reader. Can I make my reader cry? Can I make them frustrated? Will they be drawn into the story and wonder how Mary will get past her grief? Will they be desperate to know whether she will allow love, in any form, to break the seas frozen in her soul?
Some might discount this as a romance thing, only. As in, only in romance would an author try to tease such an emotional response from their reader. I beg to differ. Many a literary fiction has done much worse to me than the majority of the romances I’ve read. And perhaps that’s why I want to bring emotional turmoil, real emotional turmoil, to my romance.
Romance is a part of life, as is tragedy. Oftentimes, they come hand-in-hand. Is this so in fiction? Not always. Does this mean romance and tragedy should never happen together in fiction? Not necessarily.
In fact, if an author can touch me in such a way that I feel as though my very soul was burned, I’m much more likely to recommend the book to a friend. That is what I strive for, something so…fierce, I suppose, that my reader is scorched, forever changed by my writing.
Tell me, is this something you’ve considered? Do you feel breaking the ice of your reader’s soul is applicable to your genre? Explain why or why not, I’m very curious to know how you feel about this.
“Don’t talk of stars, burning above! If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams filled with desire, if you’re on fire, show me!
Here we are together in the middle of the night.
Don’t talk of spring, just hold me tight!”
Show Me from My Fair Lady
Think of your book as a court case. Would you, as the jury, believe the prosecutor if he screamed, “The defendant is guilty!!! …And I rest my case.”
No. You want proof so you believe beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.
Apply the same idea to your writing. What proof do you have to convince your reader that your character is bored, that her hero is unhappy, that his antagonist is delighted? Let’s look at an example.
Belinda was bored. She had a lot to do and her friends, while hilarious, had no idea what sort of deadlines she faced. Three C++ programs and an analysis of Moby Dick to write? She had to figure out how to make her excuses and get out of there, quick.
What’s the problem? I’m telling you she’s bored and has a lot to do, but I don’t tell you how she’s reacting to these facts. Let’s try again.
Belinda twisted her ring around her finger. A paper and three programming assignments. She crossed her legs. Maybe she could write the Moby Dick analysis first? She uncrossed her legs. No, Moby Dick would take much longer, better do the programs first. Belinda glanced once at her cell phone, pressing the side button to illuminate the little screen and see the time. Class in twenty minutes. She stood to stretch, and no one said anything, knowing her history with back pain. She pushed her chair back to its desk and straightened the other empty chairs around her, inching for the door.
What is different? I rely on shorter sentences to portray an anxious mood. There are descriptive verbs: twisting, crossing, uncrossing, glancing, stretching, pushing, inching. Can you see someone doing this? Too polite to say they want to leave, but showing you they want to, anyway?
The Point: Use small details to reveal the bigger picture without flat out explaining the bigger picture.
Movies and songs do this because they don’t have the luxury of 80,000 words to explain everything. Love songs describe missed phone calls, the smell of an old shirt, the empty half of a bed. Small details showing us the singer is alone and heartbroken, which is more powerful than the singer repeating, “Oh, I’m heartbroken, can’t you see I’m heartbroken?”
Treat each scene in your book as if it were a scene in a movie. What details would the camera show the audience?
Showing Through Body Language
Watch your co-workers, family, friends and enemies, the strangers on the street. Can you tell what is going on without hearing the conversation? Are they standing upright? Are their shoulders hunched? Are they looking away as they speak? Are they sweating?
Showing Through the Environment
Sure, maybe it was a “dark and stormy night,” but we’ve all heard that before. What about your five senses help you realize that it is storming, and that you wouldn’t want to be caught in the middle of it? Are the gnats gathering into furious swarms? Is the heat pressing against your skin, making you feel like you can’t breathe? Are the trees swaying? Can you smell the heavy dampness?
Showing Through Architecture
What about the buildings that your characters live in? Are they worn down, a sad testiment to what once was? By the way, don’t ever say “the house was worn down, a sad testiment to what once was.” That’s telling.
Show me the house is worn down by describing spider webs in the windows, so thick they prevent the full sunlight from shining into the room. Show me how the roof is badly patched with pieces of rotting bark collected from the nearby forest. Details, details, details.
Comment on the Show Don’t Tell mantra to enter in the Worderella free critique contest. Do you think it works? Are you tired of hearing it? If this is the first time you’ve heard about it, does it confuse you?
This five part series is my participation in Lynn Viehl’s Left Behind & Loving It (LB&LI) convention. I’ll tackle a different facet of editing each day:
- Monday: Put that shitty first draft away
- Tuesday: Be brutally honest
- Wednesday: Show me, don’t tell me
- Thursday: Tell me, don’t show me
- Friday: Focus on those nitty gritty details
Read more for details about winning a free Worderella critique at the end of this week!
We don’t remember Scarlett O’Hara for her beauty, we remember her because she survived countless marriages, a war, childbirth, poverty, sickness, the end of the world as she knew it, and heartbreak on a monumental scale. And she’s flawed, boy, is she flawed. And a brilliant character. You either love her, or hate her. So how do you make your own Scarlett?
It should be cliche at this point: Know your character. Sometimes you will only know your character after you’ve thrown a couple of bad situations at them. I really do suggest sitting somewhere with a journal, and ask yourself, “What if…?” What would she do? Who does she turn to? Inward for self-reflection, or outward for comfort?Don’t know what to throw at her? That’s okay, I’ve also provided you with a list of bad things that you can use as a starting point…
- Physical adversity. Death, dismemberment, sickness. Everyone will go through at least two of these in their life, so your character better have some experience with at least one of them.
Sometimes this is the worst thing that can happen to your character. But what if it isn’t? Don’t be afraid to pile on the adversity. The worse the situation is, and the more empathetic your character is, the more you hook your reader.
- Unfulfilled desire. No one ever gets things the way they want all the time, every time. What if your character is used to getting her way, and one day doesn’t? What if this moment completely alters her understanding of herself and the world around her? What does she do? Does her desire destroy her, does she rise above it? Does she ruin the lives of those around her in her quest to satisfy her desire?
Note this desire doesn’t have to be romantic in nature. In fact, if it isn’t, and you’re writing a romance, what a great twist to your story! Suddenly you’ve added a new dimension to your romance, making it all the more believable. No one in the real world has time to only worry about their romantic life, so why should your characters?
- Haunting past. Regrets about things you didn’t do. Regrets about things you did. Each of us is interesting because we have personal histories. For instance, many think I savor my food, or that I just eat slowly. I do this now, but it started because my baby brother choked many times as a child, and one time I panicked instead of remaining calm. My father had to perform the Heimlich even though I’d been trained by the Red Cross. From that moment, I realized how easily it is to be careless and put your life in danger.
See how much you learned about me just by hearing how I eat? The moral of the story is: Don’t discount the little things. They are the collection of moments that create our personalities and fill the prologues of our lives.
- Use the time period to your advantage, and against your character’s. The women of today are strong-willed and ready to shout it from the rooftops. The women of yesterday were just as strong-willed, but required the mastery of subtlety or they might suffer the rule of thumb. If your character wants to do something that she just wouldn’t have done in your chosen time period, don’t give it up for the sake of the time period.
Use the frustration to build your character, showing the reader just what sort of a person she is.
- Go with it. Sometimes you’ll surprise yourself with the scenarios you create. Actually, I hope you surprise yourself. In fact, you better surprise yourself. If your scenarios don’t surprise you, you won’t surprise your reader, and that’s bad.
What’s really great is when a character surprises herself. But again, you need to know your character well enough to know when she can surprise herself. As a hint, use your research to spark your imagination. Read old newspapers and be amused and shocked by what happened back then. Truth really is stranger than fiction.
I’m using all of these techniques against my character, and while it pains me to write scenes where my character suffers, I’m also ridiculously proud of her stamina against adversity.
So tell me, what is the worst situation you’ve thrown at your characters? And how did you feel while writing those scenes: timid, worried, daring, jubilant?
Think you’re just a simple fiction writer? That your romance doesn’t have anything to do with horror? I find that the best fiction has elements of multiple genres, or at least tricks from multiple genres. You want to add tension, or make your antagonist creepy and scary? Try applying some of these horror fiction hints to bring out that creep factor. Even if in the end you decide it’s not for you, it will make for a great writing exercise!
Horror Fiction Unearthed
by Shaun Hutson
Getting a Reaction
Can you hear scratching at your door while you’re reading this? Nothing too insistent. It might just be a sound you haven’t heard before, a banging in the radiator pipes possibly. A creaky floorboard? That’s the way a lot of horror stories start. Something small and apparently insignificant grows gradually until all Hell is let loose, sometimes quite literally.
Writing horror for me started with a similarly small and apparently insignificant event. Quite simply, I read a horror book that was so badly written that I thought I must be able to do better myself. The only problem is that when people say they’ve read something of mine and felt inspired to start writing I now wonder if it’s for the same reason I started…
Let’s hope your desire to start writing horror comes from what I now see as a vocation in life. That is to say, scaring the living daylights out of people. But also the realization that you can work in a genre like no other from a writer’s point of view. You can do everything within a piece of horror fiction that you can do in any other genre, and much more. The only thing that limits you is the extent of your imagination.
I’m in the business of scaring people. The by-products of my work might be nightmares (which are the ultimate accolade in this genre), they might be vomiting (I would say I’m only kidding but someone wrote to tell me a scene one of my books inspired this rather more than usually visceral reaction), or they might be outrage at some supposedly taboo subject that I’ve dared to write about but, whatever the case, the main thing is to get a reaction. Make them love you or make them hate you but don’t allow them to be undecided. To my mind, the worst thing a writer can be confronted with is indifference.
So, how the hell, if you’ll excuse the pun, do we go about getting that reaction?